First Ascent adventurer Lynsey Dyer is in India delivering bicycles and art workshops to children and women in need. Her first stop was catching up with Be First recipients Jonno Durant and Stefan Hunt to visit an orphanage for boys.
By Lynsey Dyer
Is it really possible to offer someone else happiness? I came to India to find out. And though I’ve found myself overwhelmingly disgusted at times here, the idea of sharing happiness has not only inspired an adventure but shown me that happiness indeed is meant to be shared! Happiness and inspiration is what I took away from my first talk with Dan Austin and also my first interaction with Stefan and Jonno on the same day in Telluride at Mountainfilm that, some two years later, led me to be sitting in a tiny internet hole in the wall to tell you all about it.
I met Dan Austin, founder of 88 Bikes, at my art show, where we began talking about his nonprofit. I was instantly lit up by the fact that this organization did not feed off the doom and gloom of what tragedies lay out in the world. It did not force a sense of guilt on would-be donors for living a more fortunate life but was spawned from something else, the desire to share happiness. Since I’ve spent most of my professional (if you can call it that) career making a life out of play (skiing) and proving to others they can play, too … the idea of sharing happiness with kids, especially those who might have been forced to grow up too early, was a perfect fit. I made a decision that day to go to those places and do the work myself, but I didn’t know when.
That also happened to be the day I met Be First recipients Jonno and Stefan from Surfing 50 States. These guys embodied the epitome of “play,” and you couldn’t help but laugh—either at them or with them—so when they told me of their plans to surf the 28 Indian States and combine it with philanthropic activities, I found it the perfect combination and got to work planning our trip to“Surf 88 Bikes in India.”
Two days of traveling landed us in Allahabad, wayyyy off the beaten path for Westerners and directly into negotiations exchanging $3,000 donated American dollars into Indian rupees and then wheeling and dealing with local bike shop owners for the best deal on the mother lode of bike orders. It was dusty and hot, and pollution was everywhere, in every form on all levels. Horns consistently blowing, fumes from the constant flow of traffic, and garbage lined the streets, but it was the smell that was the most overwhelming. Muggy temperatures plus overflowing garbage mixed with faeces from roaming cows, dogs, and humans who fed on the garbage turned my Roos into “poo roos” very quickly as it became virtually impossible not to step in the various treats left by all mammals squatting in the trees and gutters along the way.
Yes, this was just the beginning of Lynsey’s weight-loss program of 2010 that I didn’t know I signed up for until it was too late, but that’s beside the point.
I was there on behalf of 88 Bikes, an organization working to bring children in developing countries bikes as a direct means of empowerment, and I was already overwhelmed. Three days of negotiation later we had agreed on a suitable price, and I begged the owner to deliver the bikes when he said he would instead of the normal India time, which equals three times longer than “American time.”
“I will do my level best,” he kept saying, and on the morning we arrived at the boys’ ashram, 34 shiny bikes ranging in sizes from training wheels to grown-up lay glistening in waiting, and so did the boys!
As we watched them sing a few welcome songs, I couldn’t help but tear up knowing these weren’t average boys I was used to teaching how to ski. These boys, some with heavy scars or deformed limbs, were rescued slaves. I couldn’t imagine what they’d gone through at such young ages, but it showed on some of their faces as they glanced back at us, old men in boys’ bodies, their eyes too wise to be those of children. Freed from the loom factories and stone quarries, they now looked like shiny young students led by a strong motherly nun whose deep love for each of what she called “her children” showed clearly when she’d shield her eyes later as the boys rode past.
From there, we began the process of meeting each individual boy, presenting him with a bike and asking him what he wanted to be when he grew up. We got a lot of teacher, tailor, bike repair and police answers as well as the occasional lawyer and doctor, but the highlight was the next part. I witnessed for myself what Dan had called “the moment of happy” when a boy first gets on a bike, perhaps for the first time in his life, and is lit up with joy. My proudest moment came running behind one in particular, his training wheels barely skimming the cobblestone rock, instantly aware that I was a part of this child’s first experience riding a bike. Remembering the freedom of my own first experience, with my grandfather running behind me, powered for the first time by my own means, not relying on the grownups, feeling wind on my face as if I could do anything. That was a feeling worth sharing and humbled me as I spent the afternoon sweating in delight running behind child after child, jumping up and down watching each one glowing in the delight of finding a bit of personal freedom in what would come to be a most spectacular day in all our lives and a brighter future for everyone involved.
In speaking with the local NGO, Free the slaves, the organization that funds the Ashram itself, these bikes are the most tangible means of direct empowerment they’ve seen and are overwhelmingly grateful to 88 Bikes. Each boy will be reintroduced to his former community after six months of rehabilitation with trade skills and literacy levels enough to get a good job and to educate others on the dangers of slavery, something 27 million people suffer from every day. Equivalent to a Ferrari to a Western boy, these bikes meant much more than a means to play on but a means of transport, sometimes for an entire family, a way to get to work, even a means of making money like rickshaw drivers made famous by those in India.
Luckily I didn’t start throwing up, among other things, until the next day, stuck in a tiny flea- and mice-infested hotel room asking myself over and over why I had come halfway around the world. Looking back, it truly has been the experience of a lifetime.
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